Commerce Department chief: Diversity benefits businesses

By JIM MAURER
STAFF WRITER

Jacqueline T. Williams, director of the Ohio Department of Commerce, told a Findlay audience Wednesday that diversity benefits businesses, and is the key to improving economic impact at the city, county and state levels.

Williams spoke during the 35th anniversary banquet and fundraiser for the Black Heritage Library and Multicultural Center. The event was held in the TLB Auditorium at Winebrenner Theological Seminary on the University of Findlay campus.

Williams

Williams

“Diversity is about more than race. It’s about gender, perspective in life, background, interest, country of origin, anything you can imagine,” she said. “It’s only when we utilize the talents of all of us when we can collectively live up to our full potential.”

She said more diverse companies are more competitive and more profitable.

Census data indicates the country is becoming “increasingly diverse and that in little more than a generation, ethnic and social minorities will comprise a majority of our nation’s population,” she said.

“What that means is that there is great opportunity, but that opportunity will only be available to those of us who are culturally fluent, culturally competent. Those individuals who work to serve the needs of this vast population will indeed be on the forefront and will be the winners in the future business. Local companies like Marathon, Whirlpool, Cooper Tire and many others with a regional, national and global presence know the importance of understanding and responding to those markets. That knowledge is critical to business success,” Williams said.

When she started at the Commerce Department, Williams said, there was little diversity in the audiences she addressed.

“Over time, I became increasingly alarmed because I know there are serious issues in many of those industries,” she said, such as the securities industry, and the building code officials trade, where “there is a very, very serious shortage of people in the industry, not only in our state, but nationally, who have the requisite skills and experience to be code officials, to inspect buildings and make sure they are built properly and they are safe for you to enter.”

About 80 percent of people in the building code industry are eligible to retire within the next 10 years, she said, “and the industry is doing very, very little to bring along other individuals to build a diverse pipeline of people who can replace those current (employees) or building a pipeline at all.”

“It’s critical that we understand what motivates people, that we bring different people into our organizations because diversity brings better thinking, more innovation,” she said. “It eliminates what we call ‘group think’ so that everybody is reaching the same conclusion at the end of a meeting. Those companies are more dynamic and more creative and certainly more profitable in the long term.”

In Ohio, a lot of new business creators are females, minorities and immigrants, she said. “Many times that indicates those people aren’t accepted, or that there is a ceiling in the institutions they seek to be part of, or it’s simply they want to create their own jobs and be their own bosses.”

“But if we fail to appreciate the opportunity that is created by those individuals, who go back to communities, create new jobs, employ new people and create opportunities, then we certainly are not doing everything we can to ensure the vitality of our economy and of our state,” she said.

“When businesses reflect what America looks like today and into the future, they will be better positioned to serve our increasingly diverse population,” she said. “Just as it’s important that the businesses we work with look like America, it has been a high priority for me at Commerce and other organizations where I have worked. We need to make sure the regulatory system doesn’t create needless barriers and impediments to inclusion.”

Williams was appointed Commerce Department director in April 2015 by Gov. John Kasich. She was previously in leadership positions with public and private organizations, including the Development Services Agency, state Liquor Control Commission, and state Bureau of Workers Compensation. She served 10 years as executive director of the Ohio Tuition Trust Authority, which administers the state’s college savings plan.

Prior to her government positions, she worked for AT&T in a variety of sales, marketing and public relations positions, both nationally and internationally.

Also on the program Wednesday were Mayor Lydia Mihalik, who discussed “Diversity’s value to Findlay,” and Darin Fields, vice president of academic affairs at the University of Findlay, who spoke on “Diversity’s value to students.”

The late Mark Butler was honored with a memorial plaque, which will be displayed in the library.

Butler was the manager of diversity at Marathon Petroleum Corp., where he worked for 32 years. He died June 20, 2015.

Maurer: 419-427-8420
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